Friday, January 11, 2008

Traveling Light

It seemed to me, as my husband and I wandered around Disneyland Chichen Itza on our recent trip to the Yucatan, among the families with kids more interested in taking photographs of themselves making silly faces than actually caring about where the were, what happened there, that they were standing among structures built thousands of years ago, some of the most ancient and certainly the most magnificent structures that exist on our continent… I wondered if the kids would remember the trip fondly, or if, the moment they got bored (and they ALL got bored) if the experience would be colored as a great big “not much” in their minds. Granted a great many of the adults (mostly American it seemed) also wandered the site rather aimlessly, never reading the little plaques that explained the structures, never really looking at anything except the main pyramid. Perhaps my husband and I are just pompous in thinking that we appreciate historical and culturally significant sites more than the average bear, but it made me wonder why people bring their kids to sites like that. I mean, of course they want to see them themselves and have these grand ideas about instilling a love of history in their kids, but for the most part the parents looked irritated that they couldn’t explore as they wanted to, or like they just wanted a moment of silence, to experience the place serenely. Indeed, when the tour buses left-- and with them most of the families and many of the merchants-- the place got ten times, maybe a hundred times more magical.

It makes me understand why parents like places like Disney World so much. It’s like automatic engagement. You don’t have to worry about entertaining your kids; it’s simply a function of the location. But in Mexico, time and again we saw families with bored kids (or kids playing their Nintendo DS while sitting on 12th century ruins), and frustrated parents who just wanted a moment to appreciate where they were without being asked when they could go swimming again.

There was one exception, a Canadian family with teenagers that stayed at our retreat. A Mayan language class was held to get us closer to the Mayan culture and the kids just ate it up. Again, it’s kids like these that make me think, sometimes, that raising kids might not be all bad (again, if you got lucky enough to get a good one). The boy, 16, had a natural aptitude for language acquisition and was asking all the right questions. It was remarkable! He and his 15-year-old sister were very mature and very friendly, unlike the sobbing toddlers and whiny pre-teens who passed through the retreat over the course of the week. These were kids who got it, who appreciated where they were, the opportunities to learn and the good fortune they had to be traveling through Mexico on their winter break. It was a site so rare.

A woman I work with was extremely jealous of my trip. “Before I had kids I traveled all over the world, I lived overseas for awhile and I loved it.” Her voice then kind of broke, filled with what sounded like regret. “I really, REALLY miss it.” Of course she loves her kids, but no one thinks about that kind of regret when they ask us, the childfree, if we’re going to regret not having children. Y’know what, maybe we will, but we won’t regret not seeing the world the way we wanted to, or not having enough time for each other. Life is full of choices and regrets, and our choice to travel fulfills in a way children would not.

The mere fact that children would have made it impossible for us to take this trip to the Yucatan, compelling us to stay in a more “comfortable” hotel (read: one with a TV) rather than the eco-lodge that bored the tears out of the kids who stayed there with us, pressuring us to skip the cultural tours of the villages in favor of more swimming in the pools… we may have taken the trip, if we could have even afforded to fly as a family, but it would have been completely different, filled with something other than the magic we felt while we were there. Traveling as a couple suits us, and we eagerly look forward to our next trip: to London to visit a friend who’s taken an assignment there, and off to Budapest, Hungary, the home of my own ancestors.


Feh23 said...

Thank you so much for touching on the topic of regret that comes up so often for the childfree person. "What if you regret not having kids?" Simply put, dealing with regret is a natural part of human life. We have choices to make every single day, and looking back, we may regret those choices, or not. To think you can escape life without an iota of regret is just unrealistic.

Personally, I'd much rather regret not having children, than to take a chance and end up regretting the beings I brought into the world. It seems much more cruel to burden folks who had no choice in the matter with the consequences of your regret.

Anonymous said...

...and I would rather regret figuring out there was a fence and that I had options to be childfree... thus telling my first wife and absolute soul mate that I wish to remain childfree...

I would rather regret telling her and losing her (as I am about to do) than complete my life and regret having kids and giving up my aspirations of travel, music, and dedication to someone that should be equally as dedicated to me (my wife has given me the mommy-cult speak that I am on the back-burner when kids enter the picture..).

Anonymous said...

But you see... if I ever get to the point where I regret having kids... I can get into foster care. There are thousands of kids in the system.

Why create more people when there are ALREADY children who need families?

Its like... why breed dogs... when the shelters are full? I would never get a dog from a breeder.

I guess I just think differently.